Today's Papers

Droning On

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times lead with another wrinkle in the debate on global warming. The Los Angeles Times leads with a story about the increased use of drone planes in the war on terror.

The NYT reports that James Hansen, NASA’s “top climate scientist,” says the Bush administration has tried to silence him ever since he gave a lecture last month calling for “prompt reductions” of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. (The administration’s policy: Voluntary measures should be used to slow emissions.) Hansen, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, claims that after the speech, the NASA public affairs staff was ordered to review his lectures, papers, web postings and requests for interviews. NASA higher-ups deny the muzzling, but one public affairs officer claims that another officer rejected an NPR request to interview Hansen because NPR’s “liberal” slant would interfere with the officer’s job “to make the president look good.” The WP explains that now that scientists agree that global warming is caused by “human activity,” they are free to debate how much the climate is changing and whether or not the change is dangerous. President Bush’s chief science advisor suggests the danger may not be so grave: “There’s no agreement on what it is that constitutes a dangerous climate change.” The WP also reports that NASA officials tried to discourage a reporter from interviewing Hansen for the article and gave him the go ahead to talk only if an agency spokeswoman listened in on the conversation.

An unmanned drone aircraft was responsible for the failed assassination attempt of Al Qaeda’s number two in Pakistan two weeks ago. Even though the Bush administration is mum on its use of drone planes, the LAT reports that “U.S. officials” have confirmed that strikes by unmanned Predator aircraft have killed at least four senior Al Qaeda officials. Drones have also been responsible for 19 “successful” strikes on overseas terrorist suspects. Officials confirm that “many civilians” were killed by the strikes, but do not comment on how many, or how many times the strikes missed their targets. It’s the administration’s policy not to disclose how targets are chosen, how many strikes have been made, or how many casualties have resulted. Critics of the Predator program argue that the CIA runs it with minimal oversight – intelligence officials say it’s just the opposite. A former counter-terrorism official claimed that the U.S. generally needs a host country’s approval before conducting a drone attack, but “there are a few countries where the president has decided that we can whack someone without the approval or knowledge of the host government.”

The NYT fronts word from the exiled political head of Hamas (currently in Damascus) who maintains that despite international pressure, Hamas would not recognize Israel. The article suggests that there may be some disagreement within the Hamas ranks on negotiating with Israel, but no Hamas leader has gone on record recognizing Israel or expressed an interest in disarming and ceasing attacks on Israelis. The LAT has poll results from Israel showing 40 percent of respondents would negotiate with Hamas if it renounced violence and less than a third said Israel ought to cut off all contacts with the Palestinian Authority and resume targeted killings if Hamas refused to do so.

The WP talks to the mayor of Bethlehem about the Hamas upset and the grim outlook for the secular Arab nationalist movement. While secular Palestinians lament the Fatah loss, they admit that Fatah’s cronyism and corruption was no match for the Hamas charity network and military wing – the latter of which claimed credit for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year.

The NYT fronts a comparison of President Bush’s expected plan to tackle skyrocketing health costs with the ill-fated health care plan presented 12 years ago by Bill Clinton. The article gets at the basics of what makes the approaches different – the Clinton plan wanted to provide universal health care and envisioned an expanded federal government doing just that; the Bush plan focuses more on the toll that rising health care costs are taking on employers and on the economy, and plans on shifting the burden to individuals. Not all experts are convinced, however, that tax breaks will bring down, or even control costs. Some suggest the cuts may cause costs to rise by increasing the demand for health care.

The WP off-leads with an analysis of President Bush’s midterm challenges. There’s not much new in the analysis, but the article is the perfect opportunity to showcase the latest WP- ABC News poll. According to which, President Bush has “a lower approval rating than any postwar president at the start of his sixth year in office,” Richard Nixon notwithstanding.  By a split of 51 percent to 35 percent, those polled said they’d opt to go in the direction “outlined by congressional Democrats rather than the direction established by the president.” The poll also revealed that those polled favored Democrats over Republicans in their votes for the House.

The NYT off-leads with news from Haiti where national elections have been rescheduled four times and are now set for February 7. The former U.S. ambassador points a finger at the International Republican Institute, a “democracy building group” with extremely close Bush ties. He claims the group opposed former president Aristede, even when the U.S. was claiming to back him, undermined the country’s attempt at reconciliation and sent mixed message about U.S. policy in Haiti. The IRI has seen its federal financing nearly triple in three years and it does work in more than 60 countries.

In Poland, at least 60 people were killed and over 140 were injured when the roof collapsed on a convention hall. The crowd was gathered for “Pigeon 2006,” a pigeon racing exhibition.

Nosing around: An article in the NYT Arts section recounts Placido Domingo’s hunt for the perfect nose to don for the title role in “Cyrano de Bergerac” at the Met. Both Domingo and the Met’s creative team didn’t want something burlesque, but needed something that 4,000 audience members could see. “I had to be careful, because I didn’t want it to look like a phallic symbol stuck on his face,” said Victor Callegari, head of the Met’s makeup department.